Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
19 JANUARY 2010
Q158 Chairman: Mr McDowell, you know
why the Committee is conducting this inquiry.
Mr McDowell: Yes, I do.
Q159 Chairman: You will realise that
we are trying to look at the causes of crime. What do you believe
to be the root causes of crime, and do you believe the government
has addressed them? If you were to think of the five most important
causes what would they be?
Mr McDowell: These things are
as ever very complex to summarise. The experience that we as a
charity have had over many years in working with those at risk
of committing crime and offenders themselves is that many different
elements connected to social deprivation are probably among the
biggest causes. For instance, I refer to young people who are
excluded from school, do not have a sound education or level of
attainment, are unable to get employment and have not had great
role models in their family and upbringing, so there is a broad
lack of opportunity which leads them into crime. Potentially,
it could lead everybody into crime, but a mixture of those missing
opportunities which most of us take for granted tends to lead
those who do commit crime in that direction.
Q160 Chairman: Can you profile from
Mr McDowell: What I am describing
is based on the experience that all of our people on the ground
have had over many years. Typically, the people who come through
the door and attend and benefit from the programmes we deliver
very much fit that profile. Very often they will tick that list
I have described.
Q161 Bob Russell: From your long
history in the Prison Service you must have been a very nice game-keeper
to have the job you have now. You will have heard my question
to the previous witness. From your experience are there many people
who enter prison with an acquired brain injury?
Mr McDowell: I am not able to
add to the answer that has been provided to you. In the time I
was in the Prison Service I was never exposed to any discussion
or evidence to suggest that either way.
Q162 Bob Russell: That will have
to be revisited because the evidence from the University of Exeter
indicates otherwise. Statistics appear to show reductions in re-offending
of both adults and juveniles since 2002. What do you believe are
the reasons for this decline?
Mr McDowell: This is key work
for us. We are very clear that the focus on the delivery of basic
joined-up resettlement processes is most likely to have made the
difference in respect of that reduction in re-offending. The key
factors that we know are likely to help offenders make different
decisions to change their lives are: level of educational attainment;
the ability to get a job; dealing with housing issues; maintaining
family ties; dealing with health-related issues; and individual
assessment, recognising what the individual might need and delivering
on that. Crucially, following the delivery of those services through
the gate back into the community is in our view most likely to
have had the biggest effect in that respect.
Q163 Martin Salter: I declare an
interest in having been involved in both the Nacro-sponsored Jail
Guitar Doors campaign and the Reading Angling Action project.
I am aware of your work and support a lot of the initiatives you
do on the ground certainly in my constituency. The government
is talking about focusing even more intensely on prolific offenders.
We have to an extent got our head round what could work in terms
of people entering the prison estate for the first time. Of course
prolific offenders fall into a different category. In your experience
what sorts of programmes work best in targeting prolific offenders
and attempting to change their behaviour?
Mr McDowell: The theme to which
I shall keep returning is joined-up services. We are weakest when
we stick to our silos and do not join up the relevant work of
the agencies. In terms of prolific offenders individual needs
must be assessed. It will depend on the background of offending,
the offending history and the particular problems of that individual.
The delivery of relevant offending behaviour programmes is dependent
on their individual need but an assessment of their resettlement
needs and the level of support they might get once they leave
prison is very important as far as we are concerned. One of the
things we believe should be a distinct part of what we do in relation
to prolific offenders is an increased level of relevant mentoring
for offenders by well-trained adults once they are released back
into the community. We are running those types of schemes around
the country especially for young offenders. We believe that to
be quite effective.
Q164 Martin Salter: Presumably, a
prolific offender is someone who has offended before and therefore
we come back to the point Mr Davies raised earlier about how we
deal with people when they first enter the prison estate. At that
point they are not prolific but obviously if they re-offend, re-offend
and re-offend they soon hit the "prolific" category.
Based on research from the Social Exclusion Unit I note that 20%
of prisoners have the writing skills, 35% the numeracy skills
and 50% the reading skills of an 11 year-old child. Sixty to 70%
of prisoners use drugs and 70% of prisoners suffer from at least
two mental disorders. If you have that toxic cocktail does it
not tell us that we must begin to address those basic deficiencies
at the moment people enter the prison estate before they can get
to the stage of being prolific offenders?
Mr McDowell: Yes. To add one more
statistic to your list, over one quarter have levels of educational
attainment below those of a seven year-old. When I list the resettlement
pathway outcomes that need to be joined up and delivered on an
individual basis education and training is a key element in that.
There is no doubt in my mind that if you do not deal with that
issue you will not deal with employment and therefore you are
unlikely to be very successful in the work you do.
Q165 Martin Salter: Does that lead
to the inevitable conclusion we have been pushing that you cannot
do any of this in the context of a short first-time custodial
sentence? If you are to put people on effective programmes you
cannot do it if you have people in the prison estate for only
a short period of time?
Mr McDowell: That depends very
much on the quality of the interventions and resettlement programmes
that you can deliver in a joined-up way both in custody and beyond.
We are not necessarily very good at the moment in joining up through
the gates. When people are back in the community there is a tendency
for us not to continue with the delivery of effective services.
Q166 David Davies: In terms of the
resettlement of offenders one of the criticisms levelled at prisons
is that they become universities of crime and prisoners pick up
other tricks from them. I have never accepted that. Is it not
the case that when prisoners are resettled they are just as likely
to go back to their old haunts and meet with the people who introduced
them to crime in the first place?
Mr McDowell: To a great extent
both of those things are true. Early intervention and how you
prevent crime from being committed in the first place is a key
part of this debate. Tackling those very difficult issues in our
communities is absolutely key. In a sense I would not want us
to give up on the idea of changing people's lives and reducing
their likelihood of re-offending simply on the basis that we shall
return them to damaged communities where they are likely to link
up with the same people who influenced their decisions in the
first place. Let us deal with what is going on in those communities.
Q167 Mr Winnick: The previous witness
whose evidence you listened to gave us the picture that if all
was not well in prisons it was better than it used to be and he
denied there was overcrowding and the rest of it. Do you go along
Mr McDowell: As the Committee
is aware, I have only just left the Prison Service after 20 years'
Q168 Mr Winnick: You were a prison
governor, were you not?
Mr McDowell: Yes, I was. What
I can tell the Committee is that the quality of the work delivered
in the Prison Service now compared with when I joined has changed
significantly. Levels of educational provision, the quality of
offender behaviour programmes we deliver, even the ability of
the service to join up with other agencies, which has improved
though there is a long way to go, and the involvement of the voluntary
sector which is crucial to Nacro have improved and increased significantly.
There are huge challenges. Nobody could have predicted that the
prison population would double effectively in the past 20 years,
but a lot more work is being done with individual prisoners than
was being done before.
Q169 Mr Winnick: Most people, certainly
Members of Parliament, opinion-formers and the general public
for that matter would take the view that a large percentage of
those who go to prison once released will hopefully have learnt
their lesson, have the opportunity of a job or job training and
not re-offend. What percentage of offenders find a job on leaving
Mr McDowell: I do not have that
Q170 Mr Winnick: Will you write to
us in due course and provide that figure?
Mr McDowell: I will certainly
Q171 Chairman: Is it over 50%?
Mr McDowell: We know that the
rate of re-offending is still high despite the progress we have
made. We will certainly look into it and provide the Committee
with the information. We know for sure that it is very difficult
for ex-offenders once released to get employment as a consequence
of their record. We take calls in their thousands from ex-offenders
who seek advice from us about how they overcome the restrictions
on them in terms of employment opportunities.
Q172 Mr Clappison: I dare say that
if we hear the figure we will come to the conclusion that not
enough offenders find a job on leaving custody. Do you believe
enough is being done to provide prisoners, particularly young
offenders, with practical training in particular and skills to
help them find a job in a trade or line of work?
Mr McDowell: We are doing a lot
more of that. Nacro is itself involved in delivering vocational
training outside custody. I was formerly governor of Coldingley
in Surrey which is a prison set up to do precisely what you describe.
It has workshops and everybody is employed and learns skills.
When I was there we tried to make links with employers. A lot
more could be done. Education in terms of academic achievement
is helpful and important but sometimes vocational training, the
qualifications that come from it and the link that can be made
to employers, if only we could overcome the challenge of encouraging
them to employ ex-offenders, are crucial. Lots of offenders are
much more open to that kind of training.
Q173 Mr Clappison: Should we not
have a lot more prisons and institutions like Coldingley where
people can do training and work?
Mr McDowell: Yes.
Q174 Mr Winnick: Statistics given
to us show that in 2002 nearly three out of five prisoners were
reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. As I understand
it, since then the situation has improved. To what extent has
Mr McDowell: I do not have figures
to show the percentage improvement.
Q175 Mr Winnick: Would it be right
to say that the majority of those who leave prison re-offend within
a period of two years?
Mr McDowell: My understanding
without having the figures in front of me is that even though
an improvement has been achieved in relation to the level of re-offending
it has not occurred to an extent where we can say more prisoners
do not re-offend than do. Your point is well taken in that respect.
Q176 Mr Winnick: Insofar as you are
able to do so will you supply us with some figures about re-offending
within two years?
Mr McDowell: Levels of re-offending
within that period are still far too high.
Q177 Chairman: Would you write to
us with the figures or, if not, tell us where to find them?
Mr McDowell: If we have those
figures we shall supply them.
Q178 Gwyn Prosser: You have underlined
the importance of training and more education. Other witnesses
have also talked about more effective use of those tools when
offenders have longer rather than shorter sentences for pretty
obvious reasons. What about the churning effect? During the Committee's
previous inquiry into these matters which concentrated on prisoners
themselves we heard quite worrying stories about a prisoner being
moved three or four times in as many months. That must also be
debilitating in terms of being able to resettle.
Mr McDowell: That is absolutely
right, and we are also very concerned about it. There is potential
wastage in the system in that respect. There is a lot of investment
in education in prisons but if individuals are unable to complete
the particular education in which they are engaged because they
are moved on, or there is population pressure which leads to that,
and that is not picked up in the place at which they arrive clearly
that is not good for the individual and potentially we have wasted
the original resource by delivering only half the education. That
is definitely a challenge.
Q179 Gwyn Prosser: How much importance
do you place on the treatment of drug-abusers and people with
mental health problems?
Mr McDowell: In relation to both
of those issues it is absolutely vital. From my experience I have
a very clear understanding that unless you deal with the underlying
causes of individual offendingin relation to mental health
and drug addiction it is abundantly clear that it is likely those
two causes will have a massive effectyou are unlikely to
move people to a position where they will stop offending in future.
It is massively important.
Q180 Gwyn Prosser: In that case,
are the government's policies and measures satisfactory? If not,
what single recommendations would you make?
Mr McDowell: My personal view
is that there are too many individuals in prison who are mentally
ill. For a long time as chief executive of Nacro and as a prison
governor I would have liked to see a different kind of investment
in terms of the facilities that might be available to deliver
mental health care treatment and for those individuals to be treated
in a different way. It comes back to the old debate about prisoners
versus patients. Who come first? Was it a mental health problem
that led to offending or did the offending in part lead to the
mental health problem? We need to be more honest and braver about
that as a society.
Q181 Chairman: I am sure you will
answer that you do not have the statistics, but can you give me
a rough percentage of those you have to deal with in Nacro in
two categories, namely those who may have mental health problems
and those who use drugs?
Mr McDowell: Your prediction is
absolutely spot on.
Q182 Chairman: Can you provide a
Mr McDowell: I have worked for
Nacro for only three months and I am not in a position to give
you even a rough estimate. I would not like to hazard a guess
but I shall certainly clarify it.
Q183 Chairman: Putting on your old
hatobviously, you do not have today's figuresdo
you know the rough percentage of prisoners who went into Brixton
who had either drug or mental health problems?
Mr McDowell: I can give you a
rough percentage based on my three-year experience at Brixton.
I left there last August. In relation to drug addiction probably
60% of offenders who came in had some level of drug addiction.
The level of addiction varied quite significantly. As to mental
health it is more difficult to judge because often such problems
are hidden for various reasons, but I would say that at least
one quarter of them had suffered mental health problems at some
level or other.
Q184 Chairman: So, 25% had mental
health problems and 60% had drug problems?
Mr McDowell: Yes. I am separating
mental health from some sort of drug addiction.
Q185 Tom Brake: You may have heard
me ask the same question of Mr Wheatley. Are you aware of any
research to show how much you save if you spend £1 on supporting
ex-prisoners or training them while they are in prison because
those individuals do not reappear in the prison system at some
future point? Is there any research that can tell us the answer
to that question?
Mr McDowell: I heard your question
and was very interested in it. For all of us who work in various
sectors of the criminal justice system an understanding of the
savings we can make if we do x is almost like the Holy
Grail. I know there are attempts ongoing to try to identify those
figures. Nacro is now measuring the work it does in relation to
the potential saving to the taxpayer that might be realised. I
am not aware of any solid evidence in the form of figures to back
that up at this stage.
Q186 Tom Brake: I urge you to pursue
that line of inquiry because if you were able to tell the Committee
that spending £1 would result in a saving of £3 down
the line that is the sort of thing politicians want to hear. Given
we are entering an era when there is likely to be less rather
than more money available, are you aware of current areas of spending
that you believe are unnecessary, are targeted at the wrong things
or could be more effectively spent elsewhere?
Mr McDowell: Speaking on behalf
of Nacro, one of the big frustrations for us is the level of bureaucracy
built into many of the commissioning systems. Drug treatment is
an interesting example of that. To go back to my experiences as
governor of Brixton prison, in order to implement the integrated
drug treatment system there the process was one where the money
flowed down from the government department to the NHS, the PCT,
the prison and the private prison health provider with whom we
had contracted inside the prison. All sorts of people were taking
an interest from the side, for instance the National Drug Treatment
Agency. You get into a situation where there are people employed
to check the checkers. That is very frustrating. I am clear that
there is a lot of wastage in that respect.
Q187 Chairman: Too many managers?
Mr McDowell: Too many managers,
too many levels and too much bureaucracy. What we would very much
like to seecommissioning services is what keeps Nacro able
to deliver the work it does in contributing to the reduction in
crimeis straight line commissioning arrangements so we
can deliver horizontal joined-up services. For us that would be
an ideal outcome.
Q188 Tom Brake: In relation to that
particular example, who would get the pot of money which could
be drawn down instantly without having to go through the long
chain of organisations before the funding eventually dribbled
down to the offender?
Mr McDowell: I absolutely believe
that you must have a degree of checking. My concern is that there
is just too much of it. I would have thought that at least a couple
of levels could be cut out. It would be interesting to knowbefore
you ask I confess that I have not made the calculationhow
much more money could have been used on the frontline delivery
of those services had we been able to cut out some of that bureaucracy.
Chairman: Thank you very much for giving
evidence today. What you have to say is extremely important to
our inquiry. Please write to us with the statistics that you have.
I am sure they will help us in our deliberations.